Who deserves what?

What do we mean when we use the word deserve? Dictionary.com defines the word as follows:

deserve VERB – to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities or situation: to deserve exile; to deserve charity; a theory that deserves consideration

I've been pondering our usage of deserve and asking myself whether it is a word we overuse. I even have a problem with one of the examples of the word usage listed on Dictionary.com: to deserve charity. How does one deserve charity when charity is given out of the kindness the giver's heart? No one is entitled to such kindness—it is a voluntary act.

Some people believe they deserve a good job because they have earned a college degree. These feelings are sometimes intensified if the job seeker racked up a significant amount of debt in order to obtain the degree. No one deserves a job simply because he has a degree, and no one deserves a higher-paying job simply because he carries a six-figure debt load after college. Instead, he must consider the possibility he made a bad investment and at least one regrettable life decision.

Does anyone ever deserve a promotion? Maybe you're capable of performing at the higher position, but maybe another candidate is simply a better fit. The higher up the chain you go, the less those positions come open. Therefore, these positions become more competitive, and at some point, someone is bound to feel as if he or she got shafted. If you are undoubtedly the best candidate and you are passed up for a promotion, then your employer doesn't deserve to have you on their team, so you should feel no guilt when looking to carry your talents elsewhere.

Does anyone deserve a happy life or a happy childhood? To argue such implies a certain sense of justice, as if there is a universal concept of fair distribution. Life is full of chaos and randomness and can attack anyone at any moment. Conducting oneself “the right way” does not guarantee reward or success. It merely betters your odds.

Does a person deserve a good relationship? What if said person continually chooses bad partners? Healthy relationships usually do not happen on accident, after all. And in this situation, the person who habitually finds himself or herself in bad relationships is the one constant.

There are times and situations in which someone does deserve something. In the case of a court settlement or ruling, you deserve whatever the judge or jury awards. If you are subject to a certain contract or employment agreement, then you deserve compensation for hours worked or certain outputs or other measures of production.

Minimizing the notion of deserving helps when dealing with the pain and feelings of being wronged which accompany loss. Leaning on the concept of deserving leads to questions like Why me?, and as I've argued in another post, we're sometimes better asking Why not me?, instead asking why we do not deserve such rotten luck. Doing so can give a healthier perspective.

I can say I have earned my good fortunes to some degree. If nothing else, I've taken certain risks which have paid off to get me where I am. But there's no denying I've had my fair share of luck, a touch of right place/right time magic. On the flip side, I've been hit with my fair share of setbacks and roadblocks. I can't say I deserved my bad luck any more than my good luck.

I've tried to remove the language of deserving from my vocabulary, but it is more difficult that one may imagine. Deserve, in its various forms, is a fundamental word in the English language.

What do I deserve if I am able to create and maintain a consistent writing practice? Do I deserve awards? To gain a following? Do I deserve any measure of success? No. At best I deserve the chance for such pleasantries.

That and nothing more.